Islanders on board cruise ship on which four people have died

Four people have died on a cruise ship on which more than 1,800 passengers and crew are stranded, including several people from Vancouver Island.

“We received very sad news just now,” Metchosin’s David Kirkham wrote from the MS Zaandam on Friday morning. “Four guests have died, one overnight, two yesterday and one the day before. This has hit us very hard.”

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Cruise line Holland America confirmed that four older passengers had died.

David and wife Norma Kirkham, a couple from Sooke and some passengers from Nanaimo are among close to 250 Canadians on the ship, which has been refused entry by South American ports worried about the pandemic.

The Zaandam, which left Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 for a cruise around the southern tip of the continent, hasn’t been allowed to dock since March 14.

On Friday morning, the ship was positioned off of Panama, where Holland America said it was negotiating with local authorities for permission to transit the Panama Canal. The goal is to dock at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Monday.

The cruise line said it would begin transferring healthy passengers to a sister vessel, the MS Rotterdam, on Friday. “Only those who have not been ill will be moved, and health screenings will be conducted before transferring,” it said in a statement.

Priority will go to those over age 70 and to those in inside cabins.

The Kirkhams, who are in their 60s, have a room with an outside view.

All passengers on the Zaandam have been confined to their staterooms since Sunday, when people began reporting sick.

Holland America did not specify that the four died of coronavirus, but said more than 130 passengers and crew have possible symptoms. At least two cases have been confirmed. The ship has four doctors and four nurses to treat 1,243 passengers and 586 crew members.

“We continue to be healthy, but as I said, this has hit us hard,” Kirkham wrote.

— With files from The Associated Press

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